Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Category: Blog Assignments (Page 1 of 3)

Blog Assignment #8

Ghost WriterFor your next blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 400 words in which you first quote, then react to a statement (a sentence or two) in Chapter 2 of danah boyd's book It's Complicated that caught your attention.  You might address how the statement affects your understanding of privacy, connections you see between the statement and other ideas we've discussed this semester, or your own opinions on the statement.

Please (1) give your post a descriptive title, (2) assign it to the "Student Posts" category, and (3) give it at least three useful tags. Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 11th.

Note: If you'd rather leave a 200-400 word response on a peer's post than start your own post, that's fine!

Blog Assignment #7

Ghost WriterFor your seventh blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 400 words in which you (briefly) summarize and react to a passage in Little Brother that caught your attention. You might address why it interests you, connections you see between the passage and other ideas we've discussed this semester, or your opinion on arguments made in the passage.

Please (1) give your post a descriptive title, (2) assign it to the "Student Posts" category, and (3) give it at least three useful tags. Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 19th.

The Navajo Code Talkers

A major reason for the Allied success during World War I was German overconfidence in the Enigma.  Because of their overconfidence, they were unaware that the British were deciphering their messages.  Although this played a large role, it is not the sole cause for the victory of the Allies.  In order to win the war, the Allies also had to have some defenses of their own.  One of these defenses came in the form of code.  The United States was in need for an impenetrable code so that its communications could be secure.  The answer came in the form of the Navajo, a Native American tribe.

The Navajo language is incredibly complex; it is unique and does not stem from any other language.  Singh quotes Philip Johnston, the mastermind behind using the Navajo language as code, "the Navajo tribal dialect is completely unintelligible to all other tribes and all other people."  The United States government employed 420 Navajo code talkers.  With these code talkers, the United States had a secure means of communication, which allowed for them to prevent disasters from happening and anticipate potential threats.  After the war, the Japanese even admitted that they had not made a dent in breaking the Navajo code.

Having a secure code is vitally important.  This is evidenced by the German failure to keep a secure code.  Once the British had broken the Enigma, German communications were readily available to the Allies.  This allowed for the Allied forces to gain the upper hand.  On the other hand, with the United States having a secure code, the Allies were able to communicate without fear of German or Japanese decipherment.  The Germans and Japanese may have been able to intercept the messages, but without knowledge of the Navajo language, decipherment was essentially impossible.

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Blog Post #6

Ghost WriterFor your sixth blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 400 words in which you respond to the following prompt.

There are many reasons Allied cryptanalysts (code breakers), such as those at Bletchley Park, were eventually victorious over German cryptographers (code makers). Singh argues that German overconfidence in the strength of Enigma was a primary reason. Identify at least one other reason, and make a case for as a significant reason for the Allied success. Consider both technical and social/cultural factors in the Allied and German crypto efforts.

Please give your post a descriptive title, assign it to the "Student Posts" category, and give it at least three useful tags. Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 12th.

Unsolved Codes and Ciphers

While exploring Elonka Dunin's website, I came across her list of "Famous Unsolved Codes and Ciphers."  I thought that this section was particularly interesting because we have read about some of the ciphers or codes in class, and it fascinates me that despite the copious amount of technological and historical resources that we have at our hands, impenetrable ciphers and codes still exist.

Elonka ranked the unsolved codes and ciphers based on their "fame," which she determined by how many times they appeared in articles or how many "hits" they had on Google.  The first cipher she listed was the Beale Cipher, which we read about in The Code Book by Simon Singh.  The Beale Ciphers include three documents that detail the location of a secret treasure, which according to Singh is worth $20 million by today's standards.  One of the papers has been solved, which is how knowledge of this hidden treasure first came about; however, the other two papers, which apparently hold the secret to the treasure's location, remain unsolved.

We discussed in class how despite the Beale cipher's impenetrability, its mystery provides incredible intrigue for cryptographers.  The desire to crack the cipher will live on for some time.  Elonka says on her website that there have been many "claimed solutions" (which she provides a link to), as well as speculation that the entire thing is a hoax.  Both were points brought up in class, and I thought it was really interesting to see firsthand accounts, provided by Elonka, of individuals attempting to break the cipher.

At the bottom of the page, Elonka also includes a list of "Famous Unsolved Codes That Have Since Been Solved."  It is fascinating that codes and ciphers that were once determined impenetrable were later solved.  I believe that this is the reason why many still have hope for ciphers such as the Beale Cipher.  If Edgar Allen Poe's Cryptographic Challenge ciphers were broken after 150 years, why can't the Beale Cipher?

http://elonka.com/UnsolvedCodes.html

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Blog Assignment #5

Sketchnotes of Elonka Dunin's Talk on KryptosFor your fifth blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 400 words in which you (a) describe something interesting you find on Elonka Dunin's website and (b) draw a connection between your find and a topic from this course. You're welcome to follow up on something she mentioned in her talk on Friday, or explore some other topic from her website. Just be sure to connect what you write about to something else we've discussed in the course.

Important: Scan the blog posts submitted by your peers. If someone else has blogged about the item you'd like to write about, that's fine--just don't start a new post on that topic. Instead, leave a comment (between 200 and 400 words) in which you build on the post, drawing a different connection to the course or extending the connection identified by the original poster.

If you're an original poster, please give your post a descriptive title, and use the "Student Posts" category for your post. Also, give your post at least three tags. You're encouraged to use tags already in the system if they apply to your post.

Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Friday, October 9th.

The Truth Behind the Zimmerman Telegram

In 1917, during the height of World War I, the British intercepted a German telegram (the Zimmermann Telegram) that was meant for the Mexican government.  The Germans called for unrestricted submarine warfare, which violated a previous agreement with the United States, and proposed that if Mexico invaded the United States, Mexico would receive United States territory at the end of the war.

In high school history classes, we are told that as soon the British caught word of this duplicitous German telegram, the United States' government was immediately notified.  However, as Singh explains in the third chapter of The Code Book, the British initially withheld the information, at the potential cost of American lives due to unrestricted submarine warfare, in order to protect the cryptographic advancements of the British.  At first, I thought that the actions of the British were wrong.  The lives of innocent people were on the line.  Yet, I realize that from a broader perspective, the move to protect British cryptographic intelligence was ethical and necessary, because in the end, it led to the demise of the Germans and to the end of the war.

If the British had immediately informed the American government of the Zimmermann Telegram, chances are the United States would have publicly condemned Germany for its actions.  The success of the British codebreakers would have become known, and the Germans would have realized that their ciphers would need improving.  Had the Germans known this, they could have created a better, more impenetrable cipher, and the Allies would have been back at square one.  Since the Germans were unaware that their cipher had been broken (they believed that the Mexican government had handed over the telegram to the United States), the Allies had an upper hand, because they now knew the German code.

Overall, the British decision was ethical, because in the grand scheme of the war, more lives were saved by defeating the Germans than lives that would have been lost from unrestricted submarine warfare.  By protecting British cryptographic intelligence, Germany was blindsided and fell behind in their cryptographic advancements.  Because of this, Germany lost yet another advantage in the war.

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Blog Assignment #4

Ghost WriterFor your fourth blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 400 words that responds to the following question:

When the Zimmerman telegram was deciphered by the cryptanalysts of Britain’s Room 40, Admiral William Hall decided not to tell American President Woodrow Wilson about its contents because doing so might let the Germans know that Britain was capable of breaking their codes.  Given the danger posed to America by the unrestricted U-boat warfare indicated in the telegram, was this ethical of Admiral Hall?

Please give your post a descriptive title, and use the "Student Posts" category for your post. Also, give your post at least three tags, where each tag is a word or very short phrase (no more than three words) that describe the post's content. You're encouraged to use tags already in the system if they apply to your post.

Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 30th.

Blog Assignment #3

Ghost WriterFor your third blog assignment, read and respond to a blog post written by a student in a previous offering of this course, one that dealt with topics from Singh Chapter 2.  Your response should be between 200 and 400 words, and it should expand upon, add nuance to, or debate assertions made in the original post.

To find a post to respond to, I recommend you use the tags listed in the righthand column of the course blog. Most students who have blogged here about Singh Chapter 2 did so in response to the reading questions I've posted, so you might start with those questions, find one you'd like to weigh in on, and then use tags to find relevant posts.  Or, you could explore the dozen or so posted I've tagged with "Chapter 2."

Leave your response as a comment on the original post. You'll need to click through to the post itself to see the comment field. Be sure to login before leaving your comment.  Your comment is due by 9:00 a.m. on Friday, September 18th.

Blog Assignment #2

Ghost WriterFor your second blog assignment, write a post between 150 and 300 words that responds to the following question:

Your first paper assignment asks you to respond to one of three essays about keeping secrets. Which of the three essays do you plan to respond to? What do you find interesting or compelling about that essay?

Please give your post a descriptive title, and use the "Student Posts" category for your post. Also, give your post at least three tags, where each tag is a word or very short phrase (no more than three words) that describe the post's content. You're encouraged to use tags already in the system if they apply to your post.

Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Monday, September 7th.

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